Table of Contents




Title:Technology Today 
by Robert Sanborn

January 2003

Happy New Year. Well, it was a pretty quiet year end this year. No major announcements to look at, no major companies going under, and no major viruses to watch out for. Of course, I considered the Tablet PC as a major new technology but you know what, it has been around for years and maybe this time, they will get it right. For major companies, naturally, who counts Enron? Anderson Consulting might be considered in that category depending on how many new technology startups were counting on their help to launch or go public.  But Comdex was about more of the same with a lot of DVD software creation packages, more networking products, and a few bright spots like Intel’s unveiling of a P4 chip at over 3 gigahertz speed that uses a new technology called Hyper-Threading, the future is closer than we think. Check it out on their web site at www.intel.com.  

Comdex Fall 2002

I had a wish list two months ago when I headed off to Comdex this year and while several companies are tinkering into these areas, no one has really come close to filling them. Not surprising as the show was quite a bit smaller than in recent years and even had less exhibitors than last year. When a company like Zone Labs becomes a major sponsor, and major giver of nice briefcases, you begin to wonder where this show is going. Now don’t misunderstand me, I think the world of the company and products Zone Alarm, but where were the IBM’s, Dells, Compaq’s (sorry HPQs), Toshibas, Symantec’s, and the rest of the big companies. Microsoft had their usually large presence but when I started to walk around the booths, most of their consumer products were hard to find and the ton of add on companies in the past were missing as well.

So, did I think it was a bust of a show, not by a long shot. In fact, for me to find what I am looking for, the small side events like Digital/Mobile Focus, Show Stoppers, Pat Meier’s lunches and the private meetings where the places to be to see what is really going on at the show.  So what follows are the things that stood out to me and so made it into my bag as I cruised the show.

IBM has always been one of my favorite companies to pick on. They have great products and services but always seem to be a bit off when bringing them to market. One example is the decision recently to get out of the desktop market for personal computers. But if you go on their web site, you will see all sorts of desktops being developed and sold. Same holds true for their diving into the Linux world. AT Comdex, they held a press conference supporting United Linux as the product to lead Linux into the next generations, http://www.unitedlinux.com/ but also on their web page suggest if you want to start with Linux, go with the Red Hat version.

A lot of products were merely updates from older versions and on the hardware side, this becomes more important now that the flat panel screens have had a jump in quality. One such screen is from BenQ, www.benq.com (an Acer company) the model FP591. It is bright at 500 nits (cd/m2) compared to the usual screen brightness of 200-250, and it has a higher contrast ratio of 450:1 compared to the usual of 350:1. And if that is not enough to convince you, the refresh rate is a blistering 16ms compared to the usual 30ms. What that means is it is truly a sharp bright and fast screen and sets the standards for LCD screens to come. And did I mention the built in speakers? This 15 inch model is not cheap at $499 but if you will spend a lot of time in front of your screen, look at this one.

Want a computer with a hybrid liquid cooling system, near silent operation, incredible graphics, and so much power that you could launch a satellite? Voodoo is a Canadian company at www.voodoopc.com that has really come up with some huge horsepower computers for gamers and those of us that just want a machine that is truly cooler than the rest.  Computer Gaming World, the authority on this stuff according to my nephew Curtis, gave it a 5 Stars Editor's Choice in their November 2002 issue and also referred to it as "The Ferrari of Gaming PCs". These are not for the feint of wallet as each machine is built to your specifications but boy are they fast.

The show was full of DVD authoring and writing software and hardware and this is a technology that is creeping up on us. DVD drives have been around for a long time and on the home consumer front, are really making a dent in the market for folks who just rent or buy movies. The problem is that for the computer side, they are still wrangling as to what DVD re-writable format will be the one supported by the industry.  A good site for information on the subject is Verbatim’s at www.verbatim.com. As a manufacturer of everything related to media, they are a good source to find out what is what in this field. When looking at their web site, look under the “support” pages. Speaking of Verbatim, they had one of the coolest things at the show (at least for those of us who remember vinyl 45s) and that was a Digital Vinyl CD-R disc.

One of the things I like about going to these kinds of shows is to see the companies that are market leaders in a field that you never hear about. Planar, www.planar.com, is one such company and the maker of LCD screens. What I like immediately about these is the faith that the company has in their products by offering a three year warranty with 2 day air replacement. They are bright, great contrast, fast response and a very good buy. PC Connection, one of my favorite internet ordering houses, www.pcconnection.com sells their 15 inch model for $270.

Maxtor, www.Maxtor.com, the hard drive makers has a new One Touch backup system that is an external hard drive connected via USB cable and software to make backing up your system much easier. The One Touch comes in sizes up to 250GB and with the software really makes backing up your system a snap. The 250 drive is only $399 and comes in Firewire and USB2.0 versions. CMS Products, www.cmsproducts.com also makes a similar drive and theirs connects to your computer via USB as well as Firewire and PCMCIA. Their ABS (Automatic Backup System) is a bit pricier in that the 60GB version for USB2.0 sells for $499. Another alternative is from companies like Belkin, www.belkin.com who sell the enclosures so that you add in your own hard drive. With the built in USB connection, you add your own drive, your own backup software, and you are on your way. For around $110. Last I looked, the WD 180GB drive was around $329 and you probably don’t need a drive that big.

GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) Systems have been out for quite a while and I really thought that this year would be the year to show off the technology but there really weren’t that many companies out there on the floor. Notably missing was Garmin, TravRoute, and Delorme among others. What was there were a couple of interesting products. One is from Pharos, www.pharosgps.com, who make GPS systems primarily for Pocket PC systems but can also connect to notebook computers. What I like so much about their systems is that if you want to take the GPS out with you, there is the Compact Flash (CF) GPS unit you just plug into your PDA and go. About $249.  Another company I found sells the GPS unit for the PDA without any software which means you have to provide your own like Microsoft Streets and Trips. Rayming, www.rayming.com will provide the CF GPS unit for around $159.

There were a lot of interesting things at Comdex but honestly, nothing that really made you sit back and say I really got to have it. Well, maybe a couple of those huge plasma digital screens, but lets keep back to reasonable stuff. PC Magazine always has their “Best of Comdex” awards and so you can go to their web site to see what they thought was it: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,4149,716651,00.asp. Top award went to Microsoft’s Windows XP Tablet PC Operating System. To me, that tells me much about the fact that this show was more about improvements in products rather than startling new technologies. The hardware winner was a Viewsonic Airpanel V150 wireless display and the top software product was Corel’s Grafigo Tablet PC collaboration utility.

NVidia Corp.

And speaking of super performance, Nvidia Corporation has unveiled their latest video chips and cards and wow, they are something to see. www.nvidia.com will give you a glimpse of what they look like and what they are capable of doing. The nvidia geForce FX Graphics Processor Unit (GPU) really brings some world class video capabilities to the home computer. What they tell us it will bring is real time cinematic quality graphics and special effects to the desktop PC. What helps to propel this power needed is an onboard 1 Gigahertz DDR II graphics memory. What this does is to allow you to push higher bandwidth across the video card allowing for faster frame rates, higher color depth, and higher resolutions than with other high end video cards. Not being a gamer, I can’t get quite that excited but here is one good quote from the technical director at Legend, Mark Poesch: “this really is that step where it goes from being a vision of how cool things can be, to being able to actually prove that we can make it real now.”  Technically, it features a .13 micron manufacturing process, is AGP 8X, and you can even program in its own high level programming language, Cg.  With the color processing technology available in the chip, you wouldn’t believe how real it makes the shadows on objects. The GPU which has 125 million transistors on board, runs at an amazing 500 Megahertz so it is faster than still most computers out there today. To keep it cool, they have incorporated a fan and a thermal air intake system for it. Really cool stuff. Look for the card with the geForce FX unit sometime later in 2003.

While at the nVidia event, their president Jen-Hsun Huang talked about the future of home computing and expects to see laptops in the home in the future. He also sees that all the technology will be TCP/IP aware for networking, and that consumers will be accumulating an enormous amount of digital media content. What this means is the need for quite a bit of storage on the home network to handle the multiple computers and all the content. It was interesting that he termed movies like Terminator2 and Toy Story as the pioneers of this “dawn of cinematic computing”. He says to make the graphics work, you have to be able to render images in less than 1/60th of a second. They have a couple of demo’s on their web site that show what they can do with the shading and it is remarkable. At the rollout, they were able to show the movies that made those demos and then to rotate it from different angles to show how the shading works. In one demo of a pickup truck in a barn, they show it aging in time as the clip goes on.

And Maybe Next Time around…

For instance, Estari, www.estari.com has put together a dual touch screen notebook with two 13 or 15 inch screens attached to each other. It starts at around $4000 but when I saw the display, it looked no where near as nice as the picture in the brochure. Using an onscreen keyboard, or touch pad or wireless mouse to get around, it certainly has some interesting possibilities.

VIA Technologies www.via.com.tw is getting close to the mark with their Hi-Fi PC Convergence design which is a single unit that will act as both a personal computer and multi-media entertainment device. Now where they come even closer to the mark is their efforts to encourage beyond the box thinking from designers using their new EPIA series of mainboards, which are very small in form factor and very inclusive in connectivity. You can look at these including the very cool gas can PC at www.via.com.tw/en/VInternet/projects.jsp

A lot of Plasma Monitors were also on the show and the news from Fujitsu might be interesting. They were showing off their 50 inch Slimscreen monitor model PDS-5003 and boy is it sharp. It boasts a 3000:1 contrast ratio (compared to most LCD panels of 350:1), and a brightness of 500 nits or cd/m2 compared to the normal screens 250. What is also interesting is if you visit their web site, they tell you that all bets are off on the warranty if you buy it over the internet or through a “non-authorized” dealer because these screens require “an extensive amount of pre and post sale support, support that cannot be adequately provided over the internet”. Does that mean they need a lot of repair. Besides that, the cost will also set you back $13,000. Take a look at www.plasmavision.com/.

Several companies were selling products to keep your computer cool. Some were nothing more than case fans that you add in (and some had really cool lights on them), some were replacement CPU Fans with some bells and whistles to either make it run quieter or push more air, and then some were a combination of thermostat and a case fan that comes on and off depending on the inside temperature. Active Cool, www.activecool.com is an interesting concept to try out. It starts with a thermal electric device and fan that sits on the CPU itself. In fact, if you run it unmounted on a chip, it gets very cold and ices up! Besides the chip cooler, it also includes a PCI card that is also a cooling controller to help cool the inside of the case and it connects to the case fan as well. With a separate AC power supply for the PCI card, it keeps going even if the computer shuts down. About $120.

Several years ago, I picked up an inexpensive digital camera at Comdex from a new company called Largan. www.largan.com. It was the beginning of the really cheap camera and unfortunately with this first one, you got what you paid for. Since then, I have been looking at the low end cameras to see if one can become worth buying and they have come out with a new model that is 3.3 megapixel with a 4X zoom. So I can’t wait to get my hands on it to see how it really does. Stay tuned.

Another option for backup systems is something like DiskOnKey, www.diskonkey.com that is a 512mb storage in a small USB based unit. They are expensive with the 512MB version going for $399 but it gives you a very small go anywhere storage option.  Unfortunately, easy to loose as a friend has found out.

United Linux 

I mentioned Linux and IBM above being an odd mix but they are in the middle of this new Linux release that has just come out. United Linux, www.unitedlinux.com, is an attempt to give the industry a standard Linux to choose from. With sponsors like IBM and HP, it should garner a lot of attention despite the fact I mentioned above that on IBM’s web site, they recommend using Red Hat Linux. This product is the creation of the four Linux systems that are from The SCO Group (formerly Caldera), SuSE Linux AG, Turbolinux, Inc., and Conectiva S.A. What they hope to gain from this is a stable, secure, and reliable Linux version. Not being a unix or Linux person myself, I had always avoided these operating systems simply because there were so many of them and so finding software for them was not an easy task. These companies hope that by joining forces and presenting a combined effort and simplified Unix system, they might be able to take Linux beyond the fragmented universe it is today. And how fragmented is that, at last count, there were over 100 different version of Linux. No wonder major applications makers are hesitant to jump into the fray. What is also interesting is that of these four companies, Conectiva S.A. is from Spain and SuSE Linux AG is from Germany, and TurboLinux, Inc. is a Japanese company with a lot of marketing ties to IBM.

The goal of United Linux is to give us a predictable, quality, and stable Linux for development that has a wide range of hardware support. This is important, as with many of the Linux variations out there, a hardware manufacturer has to develop drivers for each platform.

A couple of interesting side notes. First of all HP is still hedging their bets by staying certified on Red Hat, and where is Red Hat and some of the other common Linux versions? This press conference was held at 1:pm Pacific and was simulcast via conference to Germany where the time was 10:pm there. The final interesting thing is that when I went to look for a copy to download, I couldn’t find one so after 20 minutes of searching, I gave up.

Things I didn’t see at Comdex but Wish I Did.

Road Wired, www.roadwired.com has a digital camera bag called the pod. With 20+ compartments and storage nooks it will carry everything for you from memory cards to batteries to flash to cables to you name it.  IN the main compartment, there is even a hammock that you set your camera in to keep it suspended in the bag! That is truly neat. For $50.

Short Takes

For Pocket PC Users (and others), you can down download books, manuals, and even some news services to your computer and then to your hand held device like the Pocket PC, RIO MP3 player, Handspring Visor, and more. It is a service you subscribe to so the savings over the usual books on tape or CD can be significant. www.audible.com

What was interesting this year was the number of booths devoted to encouraging technology companies to move to their locations like Malaysia, France, Sweden, and Indiana among other places.

If you haven’t finished your holiday shopping, take a look at all the cool stuff that Logitech is coming out with. For the more productive of buyers come cordless keyboards, mice, and trackballs. They also have a cool variety of web and digital cameras including a cordless version; accessories for phones and palm PDA devices, and a wide range of game pads, joysticks, and steering wheels for the gamers. www.Logitech.com.

Want a fingerprint recognition system for your office door? Check out www.ewaytek.com. Sorry, no prices available yet on these but it looks neat.

HTPCWorks, at www.htpcworks.com has a computer just for the RV market. Using mostly traditional, but small, components, they have built a computer and entertainment center to go. With this box, you can connect it to a standard TV or use a flat panel screen to both use as a computer and television. Built in DVD drive/player, an ATI for the TV connection, you are all set to go online or watch movies with this unit. Around $1300 without the monitor.

Need to keep those memory chips cooler? Cooler Master, www.coolermaster.com has heat sinks that go onto the memory chips themselves to cool them down. Microsoft came out with a very small optical mouse for use with notebooks in confined spaces that was cool. Toshiba showed off a notebook that was only 2.2 pounds and extremely thin; and Logitech has a pen that might be an engineers dream that remembers everything you write. It’s called the io!

Panasonic had a pretty small digital camcorder that weighed in at a mere 3.5 ounces. The SV AV10 uses SD Memory cards, easily fits into a shirt pocket and can be had for around $399.

Want to see some really cool PC Cases of all sorts? Lian-Li, www.lian-li.com, has an excellent variety of aluminum cases and accessories. For the really wild cases, the Taiwan pavilion area had some pretty crazy things but it seems most were not yet available to us.

Finally, the coolest thing I saw at Comdex (besides the Mini Cooper that Iomega was giving away) was the Duesenberg Roadster at the Mobile Focus event.

There were a lot more things to look at and so you will have to wait for reviews and first looks later on so let me give you some web sites to look at. www.creo.com, www.muvee.com, www.iolo.com, www.pentaware.com, www.cloudmark.com, www.intego.com, www.reallusion.com, www.mailwasher.net, and more to come.

Robert Sanborn is an Independent Personal Computer Consultant and a contributing writer for PC Lifeline and contributing editor for the Indy PC News. Reach him through the net at indypcnews@indy.rr.com

Last Update:12/02/2003


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